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Macon Street Row of Houses 8.28.18

The Decatur Housing Authority houses in the 1000 block of West Macon Street are for sale to buyers with moderate or low incomes. A real estate company is marketing the homes. Eight houses cost $1.7 million to build but have sat empty for 16 months. 

The Decatur Housing Authority continues to confuse and frustrate – and hemorrhage money along the way.

The Herald & Review last week reported that the nonprofit arm of the agency brought on real estate company Brinkoetter & Associates to sell eight houses built last year on West Macon Street in Decatur.

Yes, these are the same homes the Herald & Review wrote about last year, the ones that have been sitting empty now for 16 months. Yes, the ones built with a $2 million grant from the state Attorney General’s Office intended to help low- and moderate-income people achieve homeownership. Yep, the ones on which that the state and housing authority couldn’t agree on a sale price. The ones built for $200,000 each, now being sold for $79,000.

The same homes. The same empty houses.

Yes, this is the second company that’s been tasked with selling them. Part of the $25,000 marketing budget last year was used to hire a firm, Boomer Virtual, through a no-bid contract, to market the homes. It came about because the owner knew Sharon Alpi, the founder of the Millikin University Center for Entrepreneurship, who happens to be the wife of Jim Alpi. Yes, that’s the same Jim Alpi who is the head of the Decatur Housing Authority.

We give Brinkoetter, a well-known and very successful name in our community, credit for signing on to this effort and helping on something that is obviously way off the rails. They are doing the logical and right thing by reaching out to churches and community groups to find prospective buyers.

That’s been a major challenge with this development. There’s no question that finding qualified homeowners who meet income guidelines and are willing to jump through hoops is a stumbling block.

Our question, however, is whether anyone at this Decatur Housing Authority thought about that when they got the money. Was there a plan? Was there a fall-back? A vision?

We also have incredible concerns – and we forcefully believe anyone who cares about government spending should, too – on the transparency of this organization.

Jim Alpi told the Herald & Review that Brinkoetter will get 7 percent of the sale price, but he wouldn’t provide a copy of the agreement. Instead, a Freedom of Information Act request had to be filed. That’s beyond silly. It’s evasive and wrong.

Let us remind you that this public agency is that – public, meaning you all answer to the citizenry. This is not about picking on government workers, as there are doubtlessly many in this office who are devoted to helping those who need it the most. Rather, this is about transparency and baseline questions about whether this board and staff had the understanding to responsibly develop homes.

Until these houses are full, this agency has blown $2 million. Poof.

That 7 percent commission? That will mean even less money for other developments.

Could that $2 million be put to other use in a community like Decatur? Could that state aid have helped someone else? Should more care been exercised on how that money was spent? Are more safeguards needed to ensure money is spent effectively?

Any logical person knows the answer to those questions.

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